US V-P Pence's hands-on Nasa gaffe goes viral

US vice-president Mike Pence is shown a piece of hardware by Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana during a tour of the Operations and Checkout Building.
US vice-president Mike Pence is shown a piece of hardware by Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana during a tour of the Operations and Checkout Building.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - In a goof gone viral, vice-president Mike Pence touched something he should not have as he visited Nasa headquarters, and his defence smacked of something his boss might do - Blame somebody else.

Mr Pence was at Cape Canaveral in Florida on Thursday (July 6) for a speech to employees, and also took a tour.

At one point Pence was guided to piece of gear with a sign that identified it as "critical space flight hardware" and a warning in bright, red capital letters: DO NOT TOUCH.

Mr Pence placed his left palm flat on it, anyway, as cameras clicked away. One of the people in the picture is Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

The rest is meme and tweet history.

Mr Pence sent out a tweet on Friday (July 7) in which he said he was sorry - a blurb with a President Donald Trump-esque exclamation point at the end - and joked that he, Pence, was not really to blame for ignoring the sign, which his hand almost touches.

"Sorry @NASA ... @MarcoRubio dared me to do it!" Mr Pence wrote.

Nasa put out a tweet saying it was no big deal, that the hardware - a big piece of metal roughly the shape of a nuclear reactor cooling tower and part of a spacecraft in the making called the Orion - needed to be cleaned, anyway.

Mr Pence put out another light-hearted tweet saying it was the not the first time this happened: it featured his photo of Nasa ignominy but with a porcupine - not the space gear - graced by his hand.

Of course, the original photo went viral and many social media users were scathing in their criticism of Mr Pence. His supporters said the former were making a big deal out of nothing.

"Good to know our vice-president has the self control of a sugar-charged third grader on a field trip," wrote someone with the handle @KentoTFH.

"Again administration blaming someone else," wrote @PatStevens2, referring to Mr Pence's fingering of Mr Rubio.

To wit, some of the things President Trump has blamed others for: Former President Barack Obama for not acting more forcefully against Russia's election meddling, which Mr Trump has even not fully acknowledged; "the generals" who he said ordered a US raid in Yemen in February, in which a US Navy SEAL was killed.

In the Nasa flap, others recalled Mr Pence's reputation as being famously straight-laced and conservative, to the point where he has said he would never dine alone with a woman who is not his wife.

"This is an example of why you don't eat with women, correct?," wrote @squidlace.